My documentarian journey started like many others in the industry – I bought my first DSLR camera in an effort to improve the quality of my travel photos.  That’s where the ‘wandering’ moniker comes from, a love of travel and adventure.  As my passion for photography developed, I started wandering the streets of my home town, Chicago, capturing grand, sweeping Chicago cityscapes.  But I quickly realized that the intimate, everyday moments was what really captured my attention.  The true essence of a city can be felt through it’s people and the everyday hustle and bustle of workers, commuters, trains, buses, etc.  I’m always looking for a balance between light, shadow and interesting subjects.

These days I work in different styles, and a variety of genres, including lifestyle photography, product & brand, portraiture, street, wedding and more.  To me, a great photo makes you feel something – love, wonder, regret, desire….  My goal is to elicit emotion with a photograph and I’m grateful to have you checking out my work.

What are the rules of your photographic work?

I don’t have any steadfast rules that I consistently abide by.  I have certain styles or looks that I prefer and strive for, but I very rarely have a set of guidelines that I stick to when I’m out shooting.  The closest thing to a rule would be that I typically wait a day or two after a particular session before editing the photos.  I find that separating these two pieces of the process often gives me a fresh and energized look at the collection of shots and helps when curating the photos for editing.

Is there a particular combination of techniques and tools that you think makes the difference?

Similar to an athlete, I need some time to “warm-up”.  I think it’s common for a photographer to feel slightly lost or have a lack of focus at the beginning of a session.  Even if I know what I want to capture, I rarely take great photos in my first 20 shots.  So l typically take 15 mins to get acclimated with the environment, taking random pictures of anything and everything right away.  This always helps me get into a good groove.

Tell us about an experience that definitely changed the way you work and made you grow.

Earlier this year I started looking at photography with a critical and analytical eye.  Identifying why I liked or didn’t like a specific photo and thinking about small ways a particular photo could be improved.  I didn’t just do this with my own photography, in fact, I do this more often with other photos.  I became a consumer of art and photography, not from a commercial/economic standpoint, I simply consume with my eyes.  I no longer look at a photograph just because it looks “cool”, but I really try to analyze what works and what doesn’t.  Being able to critique will absolutely make you a better photographer and I think a lot of my recent progress is because of this.

Was there ever a difficult situation? How did you react? Tell us.

This is probably something most street photographers can relate to, but I had an unnerving incident with a slightly “unstable” gentleman in a subway station.  I was taking long exposures of the passing L trains and this individual thought I was taking his picture.  He started yelling at me from across the platform and approached me somewhat aggressively, still yelling and very pissed off.  Of course, everyone in the station turns to see what is going on.  The next 3-5 minutes were excruciatingly awkward and tense.

At the time, I was relatively new to street photography and this had never happened, so it caught me completely off guard.  I had no clue how to react.  Since then, I’ve received good advice about these types of situations.  Instead of just repeating that I hadn’t actually taken his photo, I should have done two things: 1) Show him the photos and offer to delete, and 2) explain that I’m a street photographer and my job is to find interesting people or subjects (so essentially compliment the individual).  If that doesn’t calm things down, then just delete the photo, say sorry, and leave.  I’ve never had a situation blow up like that again, thankfully.  Also, a smile or two doesn’t hurt.

How do you relate to the environment and the subjects you portray?
I’m a 90s kid.  I grew up listening to hip-hop groups like the Wu-Tang Clan, and watching their dimly lit, hand-held music videos on tv.  That dark and mysterious imagery always appealed to me.  Fast forward a couple decades and it’s no surprise (to me) that my photography has gravitated more and more towards dark, gritty, low-light street scenes.  Great lighting is often the key to a great photograph, but I think more about how I’m utilizing shadows.  Do I want a silhouette to add mystery, or maybe a little light on the face to add intrigue.  I love the sense of mystery shadows can add to a photo, and that’s often how I think about my shots and the environment.

I also ask you to share a bonus trick among your secret techniques.
Expose for the highlights!  This is particularly important for low light photography.  You can always bring back shadows in post, but exposing for the highlights rather than trying to get the whole scene in detail has been a game-changer  for how I approach my photography.  Of course, it’s much easier said than done on the fly, so my other tip would be: put in the time.  Yes, we’re talking about practice!  There is simply no way to know the exact settings necessary in a split second before that figure walks through your shot without doing that same process over and over and over.  Put in the time, I promise, you will see results.

Tell us about your equipment, what kind of cameras do you shoot with?

I started out with a Canon Rebel T6 and a kit lens in 2018.  At the time I was just trying to improve my travel photos and wasn’t shooting regularly.  In 2019 I started moving more and more into street photography and quickly realized I wasn’t getting the results I wanted in low-light situations.  Looking for a sharpness and dynamic range upgrade I switched to a Sony a7Riii, and use a Tamron 28-75mm 2.8 and a Sigma 85mm 1.4 for most of my street shots.  Almost everything I shoot now is handheld as I love to just wander the streets.

Are there any books you would recommend?

I really haven’t been reading as many books lately, but there are a number of photography podcasts I listen to religiously.  The Pierre T. Lambert podcast, 529 Podcast, Keep Shooting: the Urbanromantix podcast, and the Candela Podcast are a few of my favs.

What stimulates your creativity, what inspires you?

Consuming lots and lots of high quality art and photography.  Not only will you become a better artist when you make a conscious effort to “study” the masters of your craft, but you will find random bursts of inspiration and creativity.  I think art is consumed best with a cup of coffee or wine! And, by critically viewing and analyzing other photography (like I mentioned above), you will slowly be adding to a vast mental library of composition and style which can be tapped into, often subconsciously.

Phil Jones